A coalition of Belgian linguist groups has published a guide to help public bodies purchasing interpretation services improve their tender specifications.
The base of the 23 pages vademecum was released in October 2021, when Freelance Interpreters United (FIU) and the Belgian Chamber of Translators and Interpreters (CBTI-BKVT) presented a “Charter of good and collegial practice for interpreters” during a seminar in Brussels.
“This charter is an important first step towards optimal working conditions, widely supported by our fellow interpreters and aimed at ensuring a quality service”, writes CBTI-BKVT in a press release. Facebook post. “Together we can shape our craft.”
The Belgian Quality Translation Association (BQTA) then joined forces with the two groups to develop the new guide for authors of specifications. The manual refers to the charter as a resource to help establish realistic requests for interpreting services.
The vademecum also defines terms commonly used in the industry and explains the differences between freelancers and contractors. It devotes several pages to the distinction between simultaneous and consecutive interpreting, from the technique to the number of interpreters required.
With regard to tender specifications, the manual recommends using a standardized tender form with clear and complete specifications (e.g. configuration, equipment required, as well as information details on the number of meetings, dates, locations and language combinations.
In addition, the guide recognizes that in some situations open-ended questions are appropriate. This allows experienced candidates to outline their own proposals in response to buyer needs.
Selection criteria feature prominently in the guide, with the authors discussing qualifications to consider, codes of conduct and quality management. It is interesting to note that the factors included in the economic criteria vary from the standard (solvency) to the more advocacy-oriented (terms of payment and remuneration of subcontractors, corporate social responsibility).
“The role of governments in promoting fair and sustainable business practices should also be highlighted here,” the guide says. “Providing opportunities for freelance local performers or SMEs will also strengthen and support the much-needed national economic fabric.”
The vade-mecum proposes several “alternatives to “win-win” contracts” which alternate between several contractors; using a cascading system (i.e. ranking contractors by score) and dividing a contract into lots to be awarded to one or more contractors.
This latter option, also known as a framework agreement, has become increasingly popular among government agencies in a handful of European countries. The results have been mixed.
Interpreters in Finland, for example, staged a three-minute work stoppage in November 2021 to protest issues that may be related to framework agreements: interpreters’ limited bargaining power and a perceived hyperfocus on price in the government bidding process.
The prize must have a maximum weight of 50% during the evaluation process, according to the vademecum. The guide recommends paying “particular attention to quality, methodology, approach to technical assistance, professional experience, useful references and local roots”.
Additionally, buyers have to factor in cost-of-living increases for multi-year contracts and interpretation registration fees – a new challenge that interpreters have faced since Remote Simultaneous Interpretation (RSI) is become the de facto mode of interpretation during pandemic shutdowns.
The guide considers that the recording or broadcasting of the interpretation requires the prior agreement of the interpreters providing the service.
“The interpreting service is exclusively intended for immediate and direct use by the public during the interpreting mission and must be considered as an aid to communication”, write the authors. “In the event that the recording is broadcast or distributed, market practice is to apply a surcharge of at least 30% of the royalty.”